Want to Scale like Zenefits? David Hershenson Talks about How

Throughout the last few months, I’ve been interviewing some of the most influential sales development leaders in the most influential companies.

One such interview was with David Hershenson at Zenefits. You know, Zenefits. That company that has revolutionized employee insurance and benfits.

David was full of incredible insights about the sales development world. He boiled down Zenefits’ success to a few key factors:

One of the most remarkable things about David and Zenefits is how much they value their sales dev team. They invest a lot of time, money, and resources into great training, tools, and coaching to ensure every rep is successful right out of the gate.

One major factor that distinguishes David’s team is the frequency at which David and the senior leadership of the company speak to the value of their work.

On a regular basis, Parker Conrad (CEO) & Sam Blond (VP Sales) go out of their way to tell the whole company how valuable the sales development team is and how much it means to the value of the overall company.

This kind of frequent calling out of sales dev has set a culture of respect. As David has said more than once:

Sales development is one of the hardest positions in any growth org

SDRs have one of the most thankless jobs but they own the top of the sales cycle. This means that when sales development does well, the company grows. Sam, Parker, and David understand and communicate this key factor to the whole team.

As a result of this intense focus, Zenefits looses few customers AND even fewer sales development reps.

Zenefits is already one of the most influential tech startups. They are doubling down on that success and hiring an unprecedented number of sales development reps over the next 18 months. I can’t say how many but it isn’t counted in 2 digits.

I asked David what he looks for in a killer SDR. His answer may surprise you.

The best SDRs will piss a few people off.

“Please explain,” I said. David said that sales development work isn’t easy. In order to be one of the best ones you have to push past that first ‘no.’

In fact, the reps that can dig into that first ‘no’ soon discover that it isn’t a ‘no,’ but a ‘no, but.’ These reps are the ones who break into the most accounts and build the biggest pipeline.

David said, he’d rather have a rep press a little too hard on outreach than someone who couldn’t push hard enough. Where that grey line lies, is still to be defined.

Building a great culture isn’t easy. It starts with the hiring process.

The Zenefits team takes special care in who they hire. They keep a special focus on hiring for diversity of every kind. This means cultural diversity, ethnic diversity, gender diversity, diversity of background as well as introverts and extroverts, and even educational diversity.

This intense focus on diversity breeds an engaging team that focus on stimulating each other by sharing rather than unifying into a collective group-think.

David doesn’t shy away from letting his reps know that their greatest assets are sitting right next to them.

The fact of the matter is that each rep won’t be at Zenefits forever. Their next job or the one after or the job 10 years from now is likely to come from the reps they are working with right now.

He realized that’s how it was for him coming out of Salesforce, and it’s likely going to be the same for his reps.

David is incredibly humble considering how much he’s done to scale out the sales development team at Zenefits.

He attributes success to this concept:

You have to be more of a good surfer than a good house builder. The key to scalable success is the ability to be flexible. As your demand and needs change, so should your org.

The future of sales is quickly becoming about specialization and tools. David and the team not only leverage investing in their reps, they also utilize the best in sales tools.

According to David, these tools and new specialization will continue to rock the world of sales. The world of sales is evolving at ever increasing pace and the fastest growing startups are adapting.

No longer is success measured in calls done or emails sent. The focus today is on actual results. David couldn’t be more clear about this.

“If your KPIs include number of phone calls rather than number of deals closed, you’re incentivizing activity over results. Do this only to your detriment.”

Yes they track activities, but the ultimate metrics boil down to results. How many qualified opportunities did a rep create? How valuable (how many converted) were those opps? In order to run a high growth sales org, you have to foster this results oriented perspective.

David and his team continue to see tremendous success in light of the fact that they’ve built a scalable product with a beautifully working culture. Their tools and process will continue to change, but the underlying first principles are what will continue to guide them into decades of success.

David is hiring. If you are interested in knowing more, check out their career page.

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Originally published at thestartupsalesguy.com on October 17, 2015.

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